Jack: I never got any letters. [...] My mom must have thrown them away without showing them to me.
When a character is angry that another character never answered any of his letters, only to discover that a third character had been intercepting them. This can work the other way, as well, with a character angry that he never got any letters from someone, and the same explanation.
This trope often plays out entirely within families, with one parent hiding the other parent's letters from their child, or intercepting letters the child writes. This is probably because it's easy to believe that a parent would have this kind of access to a child's mail, while adults would presumably get and send all of their mail directly.
This trope also applies to intercepted calls, emails, texts, or any other form of indirect communication. The relevant part is the misunderstanding.
Also, unfathomably, but usually necessary to the plot, the person who intercepted the letters has kept them, often for decades, instead of throwing them out, so we get a scene where the letters are finally delivered. This can be a form of Relationship Sabotage if the letters being intercepted are between Love Interests.
- In My Girl, Kazama Masamune had been constantly writing and sending letters to his ex-girlfriend, who despite both of them being very much in love still, had moved away and cut off all contact with him. He discovers later she had received every letter, written a reply for each one, telling Kazama just how much she missed and wanted to be with him, then stored that answering letter away and never sent any of them.
- In Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Matoi, Nozomu's biggest Stalker with a Crush is shown to read his mail and throw it out before it reaches him. There's a joke on one point about the mailman having a bit of a crush on her because he always sees her/chats a bit when he delivers the mail.
- In Sailor Moon Rei is upset when she discovers that Usagi has received no replies to the letters she's been sending daily to Mamoru whilst he's been going to college in the United States. Turns out the reason for this is not so much that someone has been intercepting the letters, but because he's dead.
- In Ojamajo Doremi, Aiko discovers that her estranged mother had made several attempts to contact her, but all of her letters were hidden by her father.
- Shokugeki no Soma: Early in the manga, Alice complains to Erina on how the latter never answered any of her letters when they were younger while she was in Denmark. Later on, it turns out that Erina never got them, as her father Azami shredded them in order to isolate her while he was training (read: brainwashing) her. Alice knew this, and that's why, despite complaining to Erina about it, it's Azami she really hates for what happened.
- In the Quantum and Woody comic book, Woody eventually stumbles across the many letters with child support checks his father had sent; his mother was too proud to cash them or mention them, but not too proud to pawn his beloved guitar.
- In one Rantanplan comic, the prison director runs an elaborate coverup via forged letters. A cavalry colonel drops his grandson Douglas off at the penitentiary, but he ends up escaping along with Rantanplan to join the circus. The director then responds to the colonel's letters as if they were from Douglas (leading the colonel to comment on the director's incompetence and negative effect on Douglas' spelling). When the two are reunited, the colonel demands to know why Douglas didn't tell him anything in his letters (which the director hurriedly sweeps off the desk where they're dutifully eaten by Rantanplan), only to learn that Douglas never wrote anything. The colonel turns to the director... who innocently asks which letters he's talking about, Rantanplan having finished them off out of his sight.
- Crankshaft: Taking things to the very extreme, the older of the two old maid sisters (Crankshaft's neighbors) intercepted her younger sister's letters during WW2 because she was afraid she would abandon her for her beloved, who got the impression that he was dumped and although he still loved her he never wrote again. The older sister never confessed until her sister was comatose and dying of Alzheimer's. She later had a dream where she went back in time, met her sister's younger self and gave the letter to her sister's beloved, whereupon her sister forgave her.
- In the Mass Effect Fan Fiction "Who Saves the Hero", chapter 29, Shepard is revealed to be in trouble because (among other things) she retained her military position in the System Alliance while she was a Spectre (during ME1), when she was supposed to resign her commission within one month. The reason why this didn't happen was because Udina kept the message saying so from Shepard, so that the SA could maintain a hold over her.
- Some Harry Potter fanfics suggest that Harry Potter was regularly sent owls with fan-letters before he started attending Hogwarts, but he never received them because they were intercepted by the Ministry (or Dumbledore).
- Fridge Logic dictates that this didn't happen canonically; Harry was raised by the Dursleys for his own safety, and if his address was public, that would defeat the point. However, owls and other birds seem to be able to deliver a letter without an address anyway. It's done after Prisoner of Azkaban at least.
- In Girls Und Panzer Open Warfare, this happens between Samuel Pearce and Riko "Erwin" Matsumoto, as a result of Sam's parents trying to discourage his interest in the military. While it does result in Sam becoming embittered toward Erwin, it does not result in Sam changing his mind, and once Sam learns the truth, he redirects his anger toward his parents.
- Letters From a Friend at the End of the World (from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic): The story starts with Twilight receiving a letter from Trixie Lulamoon, much to her surprise. Then she reads it and learns it's not the first one she's been sent... except this is the first one she's gotten. She soon finds out Rainbow Dash had accidentally found Trixie's actual first letter over a year ago and, rather than giving it to Twilight like she planned, got nosy about the contents. Finding them to be pretty unpleasant, she unilaterally decided Twilight didn't need to get such letters and had all Twilight's mail redirected to her own house instead so she could intercept any future mail from Trixie. Twilight is disappointed in her for this, but ultimately forgives her since Rainbow Dash still has all the letters and agrees to hand them over.
- In Book Four of The Last Son, it's revealed that Superman had previously met Emma Frost at age 13, and they struck a friendship for a time. When she recognizes him as Clark Kent at adult age, she complains that he never wrote to her, to what he replies that he did write and she never answered. It's then revealed that Selene manipulated Emma's dad to intercept Clark's mail out of spite, leading Emma to believe Clark had forgotten about her.
- In the movie Heavyweights, the evil camp counselor Tony had hid all the boys' letters to make sure they never reached their parents.
- The Haunted Mansion: Edward was so distraught over his beloved Elizabeth being Driven to Suicide before their marriage that he spent his soul could not rest, and he tried to marry Sara thinking she was Elizabeth reincarnated. However, a letter was eventually discovered in the attic, revealing that Elizabeth truly did want to marry him. This letter was intercepted by Edward's butler Ramsay, in an effort to prevent their marriage, as it would've been multiracial in a time where that was less accepted.
- Inverted in Sunset Boulevard: Norma Desmond receives hundreds of fan letters a day, but it turns out they were all written by her dutiful and unconditionally loving butler Max to cushion her from the realities of being discarded by the Hollywood star system and forgotten by her fans.
- In the movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, Sonora namechecks the trope nearly word-for-word when Al asks her why she never answered his letters. She later finds the letters where Al's father, from whom he'd been estranged at the time, had hidden them after intercepting them, believing that he wasn't good enough for Sonora, who'd become a surrogate daughter to him.
- The eeeee-vil granddad from Over the Top refused to meet Lincoln Hawk (or was it Hawks?) halfway by hiding all the letters Linc sent to his estranged son.
- In Be Cool, Raji has been deleting Elliot's answering machine when he finds out that Chili has been getting him acting auditions. Chili proves his treachery when he gets Elliot to check the messages on his cell phone, where he finds duplicates of the deleted messages.
- In the made-for-TV version of Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver's wife tries to write letters to Gulliver, who has been committed to an asylum, but Bates, the man who was trying woo Gulliver's wife until he returned from his travels after 8 years, intercepts them. The stash of letters are found by Gulliver's son.
- In The Notebook, Noah sends Allie one letter a day for a year, but they are never received until years later because of Allie's mother.
- In Single White Female, when Allie's ex Sam shows up, hoping to reconcile, he asks why she never responded to the letter he sent. She claims to have never gotten it. Later in the film, when rifling through her roommates things, she finds it.
- In Goodbye Lenin, the mother reveals that she has been lying to her children about their father. He didn't leave for West Germany with a woman and he did write letters. Ariane later finds all of the old letters from her father and cries as she reads them.
- In Of Mice and Men Curley's Wife (she has no other name) thinks this happened when the man she had met at a dance hall who said he was from Hollywood and could put her in the movies never sent her any letters. She thinks her mother intercepted them.
- In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dobby intercepts all Harry's mail in order to dissuade him from going back to Hogwarts. However, when he tries to use "none of your friends even cared enough to write" as an argument, it just tips Harry off to his involvement. Exactly how does Dobby know Harry's friends haven't been writing to him?
- Used in the Nicholas Sparks novel The Notebook where Allie expected to hear from Noah after she moved away but her parents didn't want them to have contact with each other.
- Subverted in Lords and Ladies: Mustrum Ridcully complains that Granny Weatherwax never answered his letters. She replies that she never got the letters (which, since this would have been when you "posted" a letter by handing it to a dwarf going in the right direction, doesn't necessarily imply a malicious interloper). Ridcully replies that he sent them to her magically, and it turns out she did get them, she just didn't see any point in replying since they'd made their choices.
- This trope pops up as well in Going Postal, where the postal service has stopped working because of a letter sorter making new letters so the main character Moist von Lipwig delivers a single letter, turns out to have been sent by the male party of former lovers... Now both widowed, so they hook up.
- In The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime, Christopher's mother is sending him letters, but his father claimed she was dead and hid them from him.
- In The Color Purple, Nettie promises to write her sister Celie, but as time passes Celie doesn't receive any letters, so she assumes Nettie is dead. Later, she discovers that her abusive husband has been hiding the letters.
- In A Fistful of Sky, Gypsum LaZelle's mother uses harmful magic on her while the rest of her family is away on vacation. Gypsum calls her father's cell phone every night to plead for help, but he never picks up. When he finally gets back he claims to have never received any calls, and Gypsum realises that her mother tampered with her phone.
- A strange variation in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, when Angela Vicario begins to write compulsively to the arranged husband who dumped her, after realizing she had fallen in love with him after all. She keeps writing a daily letter, for about seventeen years, without having any response and eventually without expecting one. When he finally comes back with her, he carries several thousands of unopened letters with him — he just couldn't get himself to read them.
- In the novel Grass and Sky, Timmi is angry at her grandfather for never having answered her letters, until she finds his letters to her in his house, marked "Not Accepted at This Address". Her father had been sending them back because he disapproved of the grandfather's alcoholism.
- In L. M. Montgomery's Jane of Lantern Hill, Jane deduces that her grandmother had intercepted the letter where her father asked her mother to come back to him. Her grandmother admits it.
- In Ender's Game, it's unknown whether it's standard-operating procedure to prevent letters from home to go through, but it's certainly one of the ways they isolate Ender. Eventually, a letter gets through from his loving sister Valentine, but Ender realizes that since she obviously had to write it under duress, it just means they have begun to use her to manipulate him as well.
- In the Agatha Christie novel Lord Edgware Dies, the actress Jane Wilkinson hires Hercule Poirot to convince her estranged husband, Lord Edgware, to grant her a divorce. When Poirot meets with Edgware and passes on the request, the nobleman says that he's perfectly willing to grant the divorce and wrote to his wife months ago to tell her so. She denies ever having gotten the letter, and what happened to it is an important clue in solving Lord Edgware's murder. Lady Edgware is lying. She did get the letter but suppressed it herself.
- In Les Misérables, Marius' father constantly writes tender letters to him, which his grandfather (also his legal guardian) immediately disposes of.
- In Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree, the heroine quarrels with her married lover and runs away, and then sends him a letter telling him she'll go anywhere with him. When she doesn't receive a letter back she assumes he's done with her; only years later is it discovered that another character had innocently sent the letter astray. In retrospect, the heroine thinks this might have been for the best.
- This happens to Bridget in the The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Her father has been keeping and hiding all the letters her grandmother has sent her over the years.
- In Down a Dark Hall, the headmistress of the Boarding School of Horrors has been suppressing almost all of the letters that her students send to their families and friends back home in order to prevent any speculation of exactly what is going on at the school to get out. This leads to the main character Kit's mother and best friend wondering in their own letters why Kit never writes to them.
- In The Dresden Files novel Skin Game, at the beginning of the story, Harry is frustrated that he hasn't had contact with anyone since the events of Cold Days. Turns out, it's just one of the many ways that Mab has been isolating Harry, and backing him into a corner so that he'll accept the job she has for him.
- Goosebumps: In Welcome to Camp Nightmare, the campers are expected to write to their parents every day. Except main protagonist Billy discovers an entire sack full of these letters, which aren't being mailed out. Justified by the reveal at the end - the camp is actually a government facility, and Billy is secretly being tested so they'll know if he's ready to accompany his parents on one of their expeditions.
- In Guns of the Dawn, Mary is upset that she hasn't had much correspondence from her husband, Tubal, who is away at war. When Emily ends up at the front and meets Tubal, she learns the reason the army censors letters "to preserve morale", so Tubal knew that any letters he sent would just disappear unless he lied to Mary about what things were like.
- In The Pillars of Reality, the Mechanics Guild routinely destroys all letters to and from common-born members and their families, so that both sides will come to the conclusion that the other no longer cares about them, thus helping them ensure that members have no loyalties outside the guild. Mari actually believed this until Alain pointed out that this explanation came from a guild that had lied to her about so much else, and had been trying to kill her for several months.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch novel The Missing, it eventually transpires that a Cardassian whose mother thought he'd been a POW in the Romulan Empire for ten years is actually a free man with a Romulan wife and daughter. He wrote to her explaining this, but the officer in charge (who is implied to also have a Cardassian partner from the same circumstances) suppressed it because she thought both their societies would be scandalised and cause trouble for the couples. When he didn't get a reply, he assumed she'd cut him off, while she spent ten years being stonewalled by the Romulan officer as she tried to find out what happened to him.
- Family Skeleton Mysteries: Phone variant - In the first book, Georgia explains to Sid at one point that her old college roommate had done this when Georgia met a guy at a party and he'd promised he'd call, but supposedly never did. Years later, the roommate found religion and decided to confess her sins to everyone she'd ever wronged in the hope of getting forgiveness. In Georgia's case, that involved admitting the guy had called, but the roommate had answered and told him Georgia already had a boyfriend in the vain hopes of winning the guy for herself. This, among other things she confessed to, left Georgia too ticked at the other woman to do anything more than hang up on her. Repeatedly.
- Done on Titus when Papa Titus has been intercepting letters to Chris from his mother, who has been in a mental hospital, and ripping them up so he can keep Juanita from contacting Titus (as he knows that Titus always forgives Juanita for her psychotic outbursts and she always goes back to acting deranged after a while).
- Plays an integral part in the storyline of As Time Goes By. Lionel was nurse Jean's beau during wartime; he sent her a letter, but when she didn't respond he gave up. Flash forward decades: she's widowed with a grown daugher, and he's divorced, and they meet coincidentally. Later, they find the missing letter in a wartime museum; apparently it had been undeliverable at the time for some reason.
- Walt's mother hid Michael's letters to him, and the revelation that Michael had been trying to get in contact helped Walt stop being angry.
- In Desmond's season two flashback episode, Penny is upset that he never wrote to her when he was in prison. Her father, who doesn't approve of their relationship, was actually intercepting the letters to make Penny think that Desmond had given up on her.
- On Veronica Mars, Wallace is angry at his biological father (whom he did not even know he had until recently) for never trying to get in contact, until his father shows him all the letters he wrote that Wallace's mother sent back.
- On Boy Meets World, Shawn is angry that his long-lost half-brother Jack never answered any of the letters he wrote, until Jack reveals that he never got any letters; it's assumed that Jack's mother hid them.
- Ghost Whisperer:
- There's an episode where a teenage girl dies. Her former best friend is haunted by her since she is angry that she let their friendship die after she moved away. It is revealed that the second girl's mom had hidden the letters because the family had moved to split the girls up. They were Switched at Birth, and the second mother was unable to cope with the idea.
- Another episode had a ghost do this to himself: he wrote dozens of emails to a girl but was so afraid of seeming like a stalker he never sent them, so when he started haunting her (by "disguising" himself as an invisible vampire) she had no clue who he was.
- In HBO's Boardwalk Empire, while Jimmy Darmody is in Chicago, he frequently writes letters (and encloses cash) to his wife back in Atlantic City, but the letters are intercepted by the treasury agent.
- In McLeod's Daughters, Craig hides Alberto's letters to Jodi, despite being the postman. Somehow, he did not get fired for it.
- Twice In A Lifetime had an episode where a woman finds out that a man she loved kept sending her letters after he moved away but her mother intercepted them. When the woman dies bitter and alone she is given a chance to go back in time to fix her mistakes. However, when she arranges that her younger self gets the letters, it screws things up for others and she now has to make sure that everyone gets a happy ending.
- While Bates is imprisoned during Series 3 of Downton Abbey, he pisses off his cellmate, who uses his contacts with the guards to have the governor of the prison stop his correspondance with and visits from Anna, who is trying to get him free. Both Bates and Anna send letters to each other almost daily regardless of whether they have received another one, so they find the sudden drop off in contact very suspicious. Eventually, he figures out what happened and remedies the situation.
- Inverted on A Different World, in which Whitley herself did not mail her letters to Dwayne, both afraid of his rejection and wanting to play hard to get. Unfortunately, it backfires—assuming that her lack of response to him means she's not interested, Dwayne gives up and starts dating someone else. When the two finally do get together, she hands him a packet of her unsent missives.
- In an episode of Sonny with a Chance, Sonny apparently doesn't get any fan mail, causing her to think she is unpopular with the fans of So Random. It turns out that Tawni hid them in the couch cushions, and it is there that Sonny finally gets the hint that she hates her.
- Larry (yes, dead Larry) does this to Michael in an episode of Burn Notice, fiddling with Michael's phone so that he (Larry) can screen what calls get through. Michael notes that doing something like this is a crucial part of turning an asset - isolating them from other opinions so that they'll be easier to influence. It all falls apart when Nate goes to visit him because he couldn't reach Michael on the phone.
- In The House Of Eliott Beatrice's letters from her first boyfriend Phillip were intercepted by her father until Phillip gave up on her. She only discovered this after father was dead and Phillip married to someone else.
- On Shameless (US), Lip discovers that his college registration has been cancelled because he did not know that he had to renew his government grant. The necessary papers were sent to him by registered mail but the family member who signed for them just put the envelope away and never bothered telling Lip that he had mail. Lip is livid because without the grant he had to go into debt to pay his tuition. He immediately goes to the post office and has all his mail forwarded to a PO box so this never happens again.
- In Oshin, the protagonist is working in Tokyo and then in Sakata and writes to her husband Ryuuzo, who is in Saga, regularly. However, when she moves to Sakata Ryuuzo stops writing to her, so she comes to believe that he has remarried and ditched her. What actually happened is that Ryuuzo's very possessive mother Kiyo has been intercepting their correspondence, and Ryuuzo doesn't even know Oshin has left Tokyo. When Oshin's Hopeless Suitor Kota writes to Ryuuzo and Ryuuzo's sister-in-law Tsuneko deduces what's going on, Ryuuzo gets pissed off and screams at Kiyo to leave him alone, then properly writes to Oshin and explains what happened.
- Touched by an Angel has an episode that centers around an aged man and an aged woman who have some sort of grudge against one another. It turns out that they were once sweethearts, but the old man's father didn't approve and eventually they were separated. The old man promised to write but never did. The old woman assumed he just didn't care. It culminates into both of them telling each other that they never wrote and the man insisting that he wrote hundreds of letters to her. She says "I never got them." He answers "How couldn't you??? My own father was the mailman!" Cue awkward silence between the two. Tough break.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia had a surprisingly heartfelt moment with this, where it was revealed that Dennis has been intercepting and ripping up the letters Mac's father mailed him from prison. Mac was from an emotionally neglectful household and his father was a hardened convict, but he still hoped against hope to form a connection with his parents in adulthood; only to find out that his best friend had been robbing him of that chance. This is so devastating that rather than attack Dennis as he normally would, he simply sits down, stunned into disbelief.
Dennis: If it makes you feel any better I read all of the letters before I ripped them up, and he never once told you he loved you.
- In Psych: The Musical, Z sent many letters to his former leading lady from his insane asylum after being framed for burning down the old Santa Barbara Playhouse, but Mr. Yang, who was in charge of handling the mail, kept them for herself due to a crush she had on him.
- Implied in Better Than Ezra's "Desperately Wanting"
All the letters have dropped off
Though they say you got them all
I finally figured out some things you'll never know.
- In the John Finnemores Double Acts episode "The Goliath Window", one character is annoyed at his brother for never replying to his letters, which he took as evidence the brother agreed with their hated father who had disowned him. When the brother asks where he actually sent the letters to, he replies the only address he had; their father's house. His brother has to spell it out for him before he realises that their father would not have passed them on.
- YU+ME: dream : It's revealed that Fiona's godfather has been writing to her but her stepmother throws his letters away. At first, it's implied that this is because he's gay, then it turns out that it's because her father and stepmother have been keeping hidden the fact that her mother committed suicide with young Fiona in the car, which her godfather tells her about.
- Girl Genius. It's revealed — albeit subtly — that Baron Wulfenbach has been intercepting letters from Gil's old friends, probably to prevent him from forming lasting attachments to people who are, in essence, hostages. It doesn't work, mostly because Gil is smart enough to realize exactly what's going on the moment he meets one of his old friends face-to-face.
- In How I Became Yours, Mai intercepted all of Zuko's letters to Katara during the three-year Time Skip, and also prevented him from learning about his and Katara's unborn son until the start of the story. This is supposed to be seen as evil, but Mai gives the fairly compelling argument that she did so in order to prevent an international incident.
- Subverted in one of the vignettes in Wong Fu Productions' Technology Ruins Romance series: a man reunites with his lover after attempting to contact her through letters (which her uncle sent back to separate the two), only to realize that he could have just e-mailed or tracked her social networking accounts.
- Implied in the furry, animated, children's movie version of David Copperfield; Davey reads a letter from his mother and angrily comments, "I have written!" Confirmed when Murdstone says:
Murdstone: "Clara Copperfield's health is not improving, especially since her boy never answers her letters."
He then proceeds to tear up a stack of them gleefully.
- In The Simpsons episode where Homer first meets his long lost mother he asks why she never wrote, she says she sent him a care package every week. It turns out the postman didn't mention the undelivered care packages, because Homer never bothered to tip the mail carrier at Christmas. This is Played for Laughs/Heartwarming rather than drama or tragedy though.
- Star Wars Rebels: In "The Lost Commanders", when Sabine reveals that one of the clones gave up the Ghost crew's presence on Seelos to the Empire, she also mentions that Ahsoka had been sending messages to Rex for years that he never responded to — because the paranoid Commander Wolffe, who contacted the Empire in the first place, had concealed them.
Sabine: And there are messages Ahsoka sent to Rex, and he never answered her!
Rex: What?! I never got any messages from Commander Tano . . .
- Lots of WWII letters never made their way to the soldiers.
- Urban legend says that a small mail-order company went bust after their orders mysteriously dried up. Years later somebody discovered a pile of letters behind a wall, on the other side of which was a supposedly disused mail slot that the new postman had been using to save time walking around to the front door.
- During the American Civil War it was not uncommon for people to number their letters, so the recipient knew if one had gotten lost (which was pretty common).
- During the Cold War, people writing from the US to the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries, or the other direction, numbered their letters. It was unusual for a letter not to make it, but because they were sometimes opened and read, as a spot-checking method of looking for subversion, they would arrive out of order. If a letter 15 arrived after letter 16, you could mention casually in the next letter that it was alone in the envelope, or something, that way, you'd find out if something, like a personal photo, or newspaper clipping, had been removed.
- The comedian Ruby Wax's Abusive Parents kept love letters from her boyfriend away from her, because they didn't approve of him.
- During the classic run of Star Trek, much of Nichelle Nichols' fan mail "vanished" before it reached the actress, leading her to believe her character wasn't very popular. It was only years later she discovered the "misplaced" fan mail.